ASK THE SPORTS DIETITIAN Teri Lichtenstein is an Accredited Practicing Sports Dietitian with over 14 years experience. Consulting to a number of sporting organisations, Teri is a long-distance runner and has completed two marathons and many half-marathons all over the world. More recently she has taken up trail running, as well as running after two young children. Follow her on Twitter @TeriLichten
Q How important is eating for optimal recovery and can you give me some tips on what (and how much) to eat/drink?
A At the end of a gruelling training session or a hard race, often the last thing on your mind is what you are going to eat or drink (unless it’s a celebratory drink!). However, this is the time when you need to refuel your working muscles – the first 30 minutes to an hour after exercise is your best opportunity to replenish your glycogen (carbohydrate) stores.
Recovery eating is an essential component to help you achieve your goals and optimise your running performance. Unfortunately, it is the one aspect that often gets overlooked. Planning your recovery meals will ensure that even if you are exhausted after an event, you have a ready to eat supply of good nutrition to refuel your working muscles. Eating a small amount of protein together with carbohydrate stimulates the release of the hormone insulin, which helps replenish glycogen stores.
When it comes to recovery nutrition, focus on the “Three R’s”:
- REFUEL muscle glycogen stores with carbohydrate (aim for 0.8g/kg/hr for the first 4 hours post-event)
- REPAIR muscles with protein ( about 20-25g)
- REHYDRATE with about 150% of your fluid loss, ensuring you replenish lost electrolytes as well as fluid
How do you put this into practice when training or competing?
Recovery nutrition requires preparation and practice. Here are some tips to ensure you maximise the “Three R’s” for optimal recovery:
- If travelling to an event, take portable snacks with you and don’t rely on food at the venue. Fruit juice, muesli bars and sports drinks travel well, are lightweight and do not need refrigeration.
- Many people find they prefer drinking rather than eating after an event. Smoothies are great after training as they tick all “Three R” requirements (carbohydrate, protein and fluid).
- During the summer months, freeze your drink the night before a training session. By the time you finish training, your drink will have melted but still provide a refreshing and cool recovery fluid. Sports drinks and flavoured milk (which is high in protein and carbohydrates and has electrolyte content to sports drinks) freeze well.
- If there is a long delay between the end of your event and your next main meal, eat a smaller snack in between. Cereals with milk, a sandwich with protein filling, or a yoghurt are all good options.
- If you are planning on enjoying a few alcoholic drinks after a race, make sure you first replace your fluids lost from sweat with fluids such as water, sports drinks or other electrolyte solutions.
- If you are on an energy budget and trying to lose weight during training, it is still important to follow these recovery principles. Work with an Accredited Practicing Sports Dietitian to determine your individual recovery nutrition needs.